By Edmond Y. Azadian
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had triggered a political tempest in his country and the region earlier this fall, which many believed would spin out of control and create an all-out civil war. But the November 1 election results indicate that he has assured his march towards a “constitutional dictatorship,” as was characterized by the Kurdish leader of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), Selahattin Demirtas.
The June parliamentary elections were inconclusive for Erdogan’s Justice and Development (AK) Party to form a single-party government and to carry out the constitutional reforms, paving the way for a presidential system that would concentrate power in the hands of Erdogan and expand his power throughout the region. Thus, he decided to schedule a snap election on November 1.
Unlike the United States, there are no checks and balances on the executive branch through the legislative and the judiciary branches in Turkey.
By the estimation of many analysts, Erdogan is poised to become the strongest ruler in Turkey since Ataturk.
In the aftermath of the reelection, markets have rebounded in the country and the Turkish Lira has enhanced its value, indicating that the stability of the country is around the corner.
All of the above indicate that Erdogan was vindicated in his gambit. What he primarily did was to launch an atmosphere of fear throughout the country by abandoning unilaterally the peace negotiations with the Kurds, which had yielded some positive results since 2013.
Two major terrorist attacks in Suruc and Ankara against the Kurds, engineered by the Erdogan administration through ISIS operatives, served their purpose. The perpetrators of those crimes have yet to be found.
As Roger Cohen has indicated in a New York Times article, the throat-cutting Jihadists circulate freely in the country and the police look the other way. The prime minister designate, Ahmet Davutoglu, maintains that they cannot be incarcerated until they have been caught red-handed, while on the other hand, many Kurds are being assassinated or jailed on trumped-up charges, without being caught red-handed committing a crime.
“What does Erdogan — in theory a key American ally leading a NATO state — see in the knife-wielding Jihadis of the Islamic State? They are useful in confronting Turkey’s age-old nemesis, the Kurds who have taken over wide sections of northern Syria and established self-government in the area which they call Rojava. That in turn has raised the specter of a border-straddling Kurdistan, the nightmare of Turkish Republic.” (Roger Cohen, “Turkey’s Dangerous Polarization,” New York Times, November 8, 2015)
The Kurds have an odd status on Washington’s political radar; they are labeled terrorists in Turkey and a useful ally in Syria and Iraq. That may be a tactical choice of the US, and the alliance may dissipate any time. On the other hand, the Kurds also must have figured out well through experience in their entire history, since they have been used, abused and abandoned by all the powers in the region.
Erdogan pleaded with Washington for a long time to establish a no-fly zone in Syria, under the pretext of protecting the refugees. Washington did not pay more than lip service to the idea. Then Erdogan bargained to exchange the use of Incirlik Airbase by the US Air Force against a free hand to bomb Kurds in Syria and Iraq.
Now that the Turkish plan to eradicate the Kurdish autonomous region in Syria — mostly by Russian intervention — has failed, Prime Minister Davutoglu has indicated that Turkey is willing to introduce ground forces in Syria — a factor meant to further complicate the quagmire on the battlefield.
In his post-election speech, Erdogan said that he would continue the fight against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) “until its militants buried their arms.”
During the November 1 snap election, AKP regained the parliamentary majority, winning 317 (49 percent) of the 550 seats, only 13 short of the number needed to call a referendum to make constitutional changes.
The scare tactic that Erdogan used has yielded handsome results for his AK Party, by symbolizing it as the base for Turkey’s stability. Thus, almost a million Kurdish and left-wing voters have switched from the pro-Kurdish HDP to AK party since June, which barely met the 10-percent minimum limit, taking 59 seats, 21 fewer than in June.
It is believed that allowing the 10 percent to the Kurdish party was also Erdogan’s doing because otherwise, all the Kurds would go underground and complicate his plan.
The three Armenian candidates running in three different parties have retained their seats to serve their cosmetic role in demonstrating to the EU that Turkey remains an inclusive democracy with Kurds, Assyrians and Armenians being represented in the parliament.
Demirtas believes that the AK-dominated government will resume negotiations with the Kurds sooner or later but refuses to support Erdogan’s plan for constitutional changes which would put more power in the hands of the presidency.
“We would have to lose our minds to agree to this,” he said in an interview. “Erdogan’s plan for the executive presidential system is not a model for an executive presidency but [rather] a one-man rule, a constitutional dictatorship that merges all authority into a single hand.”
Despite his categorical refusal to endorse Erdogan’s bid for constitutional changes, Demirtas may eventually acquiesce to the change, first because Erdogan has b
een threatening “to go to the people” to approve the new constitution and second, because Demirtas has proven to be a political realist throughout his rise to power, believing that diplomacy is the art of the possible. While the PKK opts for a maximalist position of seeking independence, Demirtas has entertained a more moderate goal of achieving some degree of autonomy for the Kurds within the system. When the government initiated the negotiations, even the jailed leader, Abdullah Oçalan, had agreed to autonomy versus full independence. Should that goal be achieved, Erdogan has some tangible results to show to the West. Through the recent turmoil, he proved to be the Teflon politician who won 5 million more votes than in the June election.
On a side note, Turkey is moving from a parliamentary system to the presidential system, while Armenia is moving in the opposite direction.
Erdogan’s position was also enhanced by outside factors; Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel came to his rescue by visiting Ankara on the eve of the election and moderating her stand on Turkey’s admission to the European Union. The US looked the other way when Turkey continued bombing Kurds under the pretext of going after ISIS. Even Russian-Turkish relations were not broken after Erdogan threatened to do so following Russian jets violating Turkish air space. And lastly, the Israeli-Turkish front was inordinately quiet, as Israel looks to preserve its hegemony in the region, in cooperation with Ankara and Riyadh.
International tolerance is already on the horizon for Erdogan’s rise. It remains to implement his constitutional reform to consolidate his power at home.
Then the world should be ready to deal with Sultan Erdogan.